Home > Highland Dragon (The Treasure of Paragon #6)

Highland Dragon (The Treasure of Paragon #6)
Author: Genevieve Jack

Prologue

 

 

Paragon

 

 

In a dark, lonely, and unmarked grave beyond the boundaries of the Obsidian Palace, Aborella waited like a seed planted in the dirt. She’d lost track of how long she’d been trapped beneath the earth. Unconsciousness had relieved her suffering periodically, but without a source of light, she had no idea how many days had passed since the empress had sentenced her to this fate. All she had left was the hope that Eleanor would change her mind and come to collect her.

Her chest ached thinking about the woman she once considered a friend. The betrayal Aborella had experienced at her hands caused her more pain than the crushing weight of being buried alive. The fairy sorceress had drained herself to the point of death trying to protect the Empress, but things had gone horribly wrong. Aborella was fatally wounded in battle, and although the empress had saved her life by feeding her a dragon’s tooth, she’d taken out her anger and frustration on Aborella, abandoning her to fester in a shallow grave. Eleanor, it seemed, did not tolerate failure, even from her.

Her spirits lifted when the sound of a female voice grew near, until she realized it was a soothing timbre, not Eleanor’s shrill, nasal tone.

“Sylas? Sylas!” the voice called in a loud whisper.

Aborella became more alert in her earthy tomb. Whoever this was must be in league with Sylas, Eleanor’s eighthborn son and rumored leader of the rebellion.

“Oh Goddess of the Mountain! Sylas?” The female voice was closer now, just above Aborella. The sound of digging, not by shovel but by hand, met her ears. The owner of the voice must have noticed the grave and thought she was Sylas. Aborella waited, hoping, praying to the goddess the woman would succeed in reaching her. If she could enjoy a single breath of fresh air and see the stars above her, it would be the sweetest mercy.

Already the weight over her was lighter. And then dirt brushed her cheek and was lifted away. Aborella stared up at a dark shadow within a deep red hood. Gloved hands, filthy with dirt, hovered over her face, two full moons acting as dual spotlights behind the woman’s head.

“Thank the goddess,” the woman murmured as she determined Aborella wasn’t the dragon in question. “Sylas, I’m going to kill you.”

She reached toward the pile of dirt beside the grave, and Aborella’s heart raced. Was she going to bury her again?

Aborella couldn’t let that happen. She had to show this hooded creature she was alive. Using all the energy she had, she tried to raise her hand but only managed to twitch a finger, which the stranger didn’t see as it was still buried. The woman scooped another mound of dirt. Aborella opened her mouth to scream and instead drew in a full, cleansing breath of night air.

“By the Mountain!” The stranger tossed the dirt aside. A short, high-pitched gasp came from inside the hood. “How are you alive?”

Aborella tried to answer, but all that came out was a gurgle. When had she lost her ability to speak? She knew that half her face was smashed, courtesy of Nathaniel, who had also taken three of her limbs, but when she’d first escaped to the palace, she had spoken to Eleanor. And she had just proved she was able to breathe. Which meant perhaps her lack of voice was due to fear or the fact she’d had no food or water for however long she’d been buried. Without making a sound, she forced her lips to mouth, help me.

Quickly, the hooded figure unburied the rest of her. It was a blessing Aborella couldn’t see the stranger’s expression inside the deep hood. Her injuries were extensive—one leg completely gone, the other severed above the knee, one arm torn off unevenly, facial disfigurement—and it would only depress her to see the stranger’s disgust manifest at the sight. She needn’t have worried; the hood hid any reaction as the woman hooked her hands under Aborella’s armpits, braced her heels in the dirt, and dragged her from the grave.

“Oh, my dear goddess. You’re a fairy!”

The woman must have seen her wings. Aborella held absolutely still, which wasn’t difficult considering how weak she’d become. She was suddenly relieved her voice hadn’t worked. If the stranger was looking for Sylas, she was undoubtedly a rebel and would kill Aborella where she lay if she recognized her. Fortunately, her regularly dark purple skin was bright white now, a symptom of her drained magic, and her face must be unrecognizable thanks to her injuries. With any luck, the hooded one would assume she was some wayward fairy set upon by thieves and would leave her to die.

“Is it you?” A low, deep voice came from a thicket of trees to the left.

“Sylas?” The stranger turned, and Sylas stepped into view, dropping his invisibility as if it were a blanket wrapped around his being. “Stars and lightning! Thank the goddess!”

He rushed forward and swept her into his arms, kissing the face under the hood. “I’m sorry it took me so long. I had to wait for that young fuckup at the gate to fall asleep.”

“I felt the tug on our bond and followed it here, but Hades if I knew exactly what it meant! How did you escape?”

“It’s too long of a story to tell you here. I’ve been hiding in the gardens for days. We need to go.” He took her hand and began to lead her away.

Aborella swallowed, fresh agony washing over her as a slight breeze irritated her wounds. She forced herself to remain silent. If Sylas recognized her, he’d cut off her head and feed her to the forest animals.

She was partially hidden behind the skirt of the stranger’s cape, but as the woman turned, the light of the moon drenched her pale skin.

Sylas pulled up short, his gaze locking on Aborella. “What in Hades is that, Dianthe?”

Dianthe. That was the stranger’s name. A fairy name. Interesting.

“I thought she was you!” Dianthe pointed a gloved hand toward the grave. “I thought that wicked mother of yours had tortured and buried you here as some sort of warning to us. Instead, I found her.”

“Who is she?”

“Definitely a fairy. Probably raped and tortured by Obsidian Guard scum and left here to die. They didn’t even make sure she was dead before they buried her. It’s… sick!”

Sylas was shaking his head. “We have to leave her. There’s nothing we can do.”

“Why?” The hood turned toward him, the gloved hands squeezing into fists. “I can heal her, Sylas. You know I can. If she’s survived this long, I can bring her through this. Fairies have unbelievable regenerative properties. If we can get her back to Everfield—”

“And how exactly do you suppose we do that?” He rubbed his eyes, his words tinged with exhaustion. “I’m lucky to be alive, woman! We’re risking everything by lingering here.”

Dianthe placed her gloved hands on her hips. Now Aborella wished she could speak. If she could make a sound, she’d protest going to Everfield. She’d been born there and was universally hated by its people. Even if the three of them could successfully avoid detection by the Obsidian Guard and make it to Everfield in one piece, the people there would surely execute her the second anyone recognized her.

“Fine,” Sylas whispered, pacing nervously. “But this is on you. She’s your responsibility.”

“When have I ever shirked my responsibility to you or anyone else?” Dianthe’s soft voice held a note of anger for the first time that night.

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